Customize Word 2011’s ribbon and enable more features

Word 2011’s ribbon may appear to be locked to a default set of tabs and functions but it’s actually more customizable than its sibling applications Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. Users can choose whether or not to display the ribbon at all, view tabs or rearrange tabs. Behavior between each Office 2011 application is inconsistent, so some settings need to be accessed in different ways.

Word 2011’s default ribbon

Default Word Ribbon

When opening a new Word document, the default behavior is to show the ribbon and to expand it to display each tool. Most all customization can be done in the ribbon’s preferences settings. While any document or a blank document is open, select Preferences… from the Word menu and click on the Ribbon button.

Tabs, group titles and settingsThe first three options affect “vertical real estate”.

Vertical real estate is a colloquial term for the amount of your screen that’s used from top to bottom. Most users want to see as much as possible of their work but displaying menus, toolbars and the ribbon itself consumes vertical real estate and reduces visibility.

Word ribbon general preferencesSelect Turn off the ribbon to completely hide its tabs, group titles and settings.

If you’d prefer to leave the ribbon available but only see it when you’re ready to see it then deselect Expand ribbon when document opens. This will leave the tabs such as Home, Layout, Document Elements, etc., visible but will hide the settings below them. Clicking the currently active tab will show or hide the ribbon as will clicking the show/hide button to the immediate right of the tabs.

To keep the tabs and settings visible but eek out just a little more space, select Hide group titles. This will remove items such as Font, Paragraph, Styles, etc., just above the settings.

Adding and removing settings

Just below the General preferences for the Ribbon are the Customize preferences. These allow you to enable or disable specific tabs and settings. By default, everything is selected except for Paragraph Indents & Spacing and Typography under the Home tab, Themes under the Layout tab and the Developer tab itself.

Customize Word ribbon

Paragraph indents and spacingEnabling Paragraph Indents & Spacing setting adds the left indent and outdent buttons as well as the text leading buttons to the Home tab.

Typography settingEnabling the Typography setting adds buttons for ligatures, text kerning, Tabular numbers, Old-style numbers and similar features to the Home tab.

Themes settingEnabling the Themes setting adds menu a menu button for themes as well as menu buttons for customizing theme colors and fonts to the Layout tab. Note that both Print Layout View and Publishing Layout View each have a Themes setting.

Developer tabEnabling the Developer tab adds an entire new section to the ribbon for working with Visual Basic, Add-Ins and Forms. These settings are not commonly used except by developers who create customized documents that are typically circulated among many users such as those in a corporate environment.

Rearranging ribbon tabs

Preferences menu buttonContrary to the note for the Customize settings, tabs cannot be re-arranged in Word’s ribbon preferences. (PowerPoint 2011 allows re-arranging items from within the preferences area, so this may be enabled for Excel 2011 and Word 2011 in a future update.) Tabs can only be re-arranged by selecting Customize Ribbon Tab Order from the cog menu button to the far right of the tabs area.

A handle will appear on each tab. Grab the handle of a tab and drag it left or right. Other tabs will re-arrange themselves around the tab you’re dragging. Click the Reset button to return to the default tab order. Click the Done button to exit customization.

Move tab

For the most part, these customizations are possible in other Office for Mac applications that have a ribbon. The exceptions are that Outlook for Mac offers no customizability and Excel and PowerPoint have no settings to add or remove from the ribbon. The keyboard shortcut Command + Option + R will show and hide the ribbon in all applications except for Excel, which has no keyboard shortcut.

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5 comments to Customize Word 2011’s ribbon and enable more features

  • Henry

    It would be nice if custom styles could be added as buttons to the ribbon.

  • Marc

    It would be nice if the Word 2011 version of the ribbon matched Office on Windows. Especially for Insert. I keep going to the second tab to insert a page break and end up in Layout.

  • Remember, folks. You need to let Microsoft know this by using the Help –> Send Feedback mechanism in any Office application. This is the only way they accept direct feedback. Suggestions are tallied and priorities are assigned to features requested by more users.

  • Natalie

    I’m new to Mac and Word 11 – but can anyone tell me how I customise the ribbon so that it’s the same for ALL documents, regardless of template? I thought I had set up my ribbon beautifully, only to discover it works purely for the template I am in and/or I use dozens of different templates a day, so this is a real issue for me. Welcome any advice. Thank you.

    • You might try creating a template file that has the settings you like and then placing that in /Applications/Microsoft Office 2011/Office/Startup. This will open first before your document opens.

      If that doesn’t work then be sure to click the Support tab at the top of this page and ask your question in the forums.